Softball preview: Rams head back to California

March 20, 2012

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Coming up...
After completing a nine-game California road trip on Sunday, the Rams will head back to the West Coast, this time to Riverside, Calif., for the UC Riverside Tournament. The trip marks the final five-game weekend tournament of the season, as CSU will face Northern Colorado three separate times after the tournament before moving on to Mountain West play. The UC Riverside Tournament begins with matchups against Brown and Santa Clara, whom the Rams faced last season in Fort Collins. On Saturday, CSU will face host UC Riverside at 12:30 p.m. MT. Tournament play concludes on Sunday with a second game against Brown and another against the Highlanders. The Rams will then have two days off before they welcome in-state rival Northern Colorado for the first of four non-conference games scheduled against the Bears this season.

Previously...
On Sunday, the Rams completed a nine-game road trip, all of which took place in California. CSU was originally scheduled to play 12 games, but persistent rain across the state forced the cancellation of games against UC Davis, Butler and nationally-ranked Louisville. The scheduled game against Pacific on Wednesday was postponed, but the Rams made it up the next day and got a 6-5 win over the Tigers in the process. Trailing by two runs in the seventh, the Rams staged a four-run rally, highlighted by a three-run homer from sophomore Alysa Greckel to lift CSU over Pacific. Next, the Rams headed to Sacramento for the Capital Classic, but rain continued through the weekend and forced the cancellation of Friday's entire slate. As a result, CSU's games against then-No. 14/15 Louisville and host Sacramento State were cancelled. On Saturday, CSU met its first match of the tournament in 2-7 Princeton. The CSU offense collected five extra-base hits in the game, but with two home runs, the 2-8 Tigers came from behind to defeat the Rams, 5-3. The final day of the tournament originally included only a game against Akron, but a game against Sacramento State was added the previous night in order for CSU to play three games in the tournament. The Rams did not collect any extra-base hits against Akron and trailed through four innings, but with two RBI singles in the fifth and an RBI groundout in the sixth, CSU took the lead for good and won, 3-2. CSU later held the Sacramento State offense at bay, but SSU starting pitcher Caitlin Brooks countered with strong pitching of her own, and CSU was shut out for the fourth time this season. Lone freshman pitcher Molly Randle, who has made starts against Texas and Nebraska, both nationally ranked at the time, got her fifth start of the season and delivered one of her strongest performances of the year in a complete-game outing. Randle allowed just one run and three hits in the 1-0 loss.

Milestones...
CSU's win over Akron on Sunday marked Head Coach Jen Fisher's 500th career win. Now in her second season with the Rams, Fisher's record in Fort Collins is 20-60. Fisher earned 355 wins at the helm of the Otero Junior College program and 125 at Metropolitan State College, where she was named NCAA Division II Coach of the Year after the 2010 season.

Brown...
Brown is CSU's second Ivy League opponent this season, as the squad faced Princeton on Saturday. The Bears enter the tournament with a 2-7 record, their most recent win coming against Mount St. Mary's on Sunday. They picked up their first win on the opening day of the season with a 10-5 win over UTSA on March 2. Junior Alyssa Caplan currently leads the team in batting average (.368), while senior Kate Strobel's three home runs are good for first place on the squad.

Santa Clara...
The Rams faced Santa Clara twice in 2011 at the Colorado State Classic in Fort Collins and split the series. CSU lost to the Broncos, 13-10, on March 4 and on March 6 picked up their first home win of the year with a 9-4 victory. Santa Clara's current overall record is 4-21, having won against Saint Mary's, Northern Colorado, Seattle and UC Santa Barbara. Six of their losses have been by one run or less.

UC Riverside...
After dropping nine of their first 10 games this year, the Highlanders won 11 of their last 14 to boost them to a 12-14 overall record. All 11 of those wins have come at home. Two returning players were named all-Big West last year, including first-team selection Kayla White and second-team pick Brittany Keeney. UC Riverside went 13-33 overall and 6-15 in Big West play in 2011.

Northern Colorado...
The Rams played the in-state rival Bears four times last year and walked away with two of the wins. The first came in an 8-3 victory at the Hotel Encanto Invitational in Las Cruces, N.M., their first tournament of the 2011 season. The teams sqaured off again on March 26 in a doubleheader in which CSU took the second game, 9-5. The Bears are currently 11-14 and are batting .283 as a team. Northern Colorado was tabbed to finish second in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference Mountain Division after they posted a 13-7 conference record last year (17-35 overall). Second-year head coach Mark Montgomery returns just one pitcher from last year and brings 13 new faces to the roster in 2012.

Strength of schedule...
Currently, six of the Rams' 2012 opponents are ranked or receiving votes in the two national softball polls. Mountain West rival New Mexico, which spent two weeks at No. 25 and one at No. 23 on the USA Today/NFCA poll, as well as one week at No. 24 on the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, dropped out of each this week but received 12 total votes. The Rams' current record against ranked opponents is 0-4, the most recent decision coming in an 11-0 loss in five innings against then-No. 10 Stanford on March 10. On Thursday, CSU defeated Pacific, which had received four votes in the latest USA Today/NFCA poll. The Rams will not see a ranked or vote-receiving team this weekend.

Hitting streaks...
Sophomore Ashlie Ortega still holds the longest overall hiting streak on the team with nine and has begun another by hitting safely in her last three games. The longest current streak belongs to sophomore Emily Pohl with five, including a two-run home run against Pacific on Thursday to cut the Tigers' lead to one run.

Patience is a virtue...
Sophomore catcher Emily Pohl leads the team in walks (27), nearly double those of sophomore Alysa Greckel, who has walked 14 times.

Beefed-up bullpen...
Junior Kacie McCarthy, who transfered from Chico State, has proven to be an asset to the CSU pitching staff, as she currently leads the staff in wins (8), strikeouts (56), innings pitched (70.1) and lowest ERA (4.61). McCarthy added two complete-game wins to her stats over the last week, going the distance against both Pacific and Akron. Between the two games, McCarthy posted a 1.93 ERA and gave up three earned runs and 13 hits with nine strikeouts. Molly Randle, the only freshman on the pitching staff, delivered one of her strongest performances of the year on Sunday against Sacramento State. Randle pitched her first complete game of the season and gave up just one run, the fewest she has allowed in five season starts. The Rams could not push a run across, however, and lost, 1-0.

Underclassmen...
With five freshmen and eight sophomores on the team, CSU's underclassmen continue to produce. A freshman or sophomore currently leads the team in: batting average (Fr. Hayley David, .361), slugging percentage (So. Alysa Greckel, .489), on-base percentage (Fr. Haley David, .500), runs scored (So. Ashlie Ortega, 21), hits (Ortega, 32), RBI (Fr. Shae Rodriguez, 26), doubles (Ortega, 9) home runs (So. Chelsea Biglow, 4), walks (So. Emily Pohl, 27) and total bases (Ortega and Greckel, 46).

Coming from behind...
On seven occasions this season, the Rams trailed their opponent, only to come back to win the game. The most recent come-from-behind victory came against Akron on Sunday, when CSU trailed, 1-0, through four innings and scored in the fifth and sixth to defeat the Zips, 3-2.

Road sreak broken...
The Rams broke their losing streak against road opponents in non-neutral games with their 6-5 win at Pacific on Thursday. Previous away opponents include nationally-ranked Texas (twice), New Mexico State (twice) and nationally-ranked Stanford. The Rams lost all five matchups by a combined 34-3 margin.